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Portland’s Modernist Veterans Memorial Coliseum Named City’s First National Treasure

The designation renews hope for restoration

Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Portland’s iconic Veterans Memorial Coliseum (VMC) is a modernist gem—one of the finest International-Style civic buildings in the west. And today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated the Coliseum a National Treasure, a first for the Oregon city.

When it was built in 1960, the 135,000-square-foot VMC was a feat of engineering, with its structural weight supported by just four columns, creating an expansive, uninterrupted arena surrounded by windows.

After years of deferred maintenance and neglect—and a City Council debate over whether to demolish the structure—the National Trust will now work with locals to create a restoration and renovation plan for the building, returning it to its former beauty and transforming the interior into a state-of-the-art civic venue.

"We believe this mid-century masterpiece is poised to once again become a symbol of Portland’s highest aspirations," said Brian Libby, member of Friends of Memorial Coliseum, a local group supporting the VMC preservation. "This building’s potential in its intended open-curtain configuration, with a 360-degree view from your seats to the outside, has remained hidden away even from Oregonians who have spent their lives attending the Coliseum. We’re inspired to renew its possibilities and build on its design’s cultural and economic value."

The building already holds an average 117 events each year including hockey games, graduations, and the annual Portland Rose Festival’s Grand Parade. Over the decades, it’s also hosted dozens of memorable events and performers including The Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Led Zeppelin.

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